2) Your Plans Are Adequate
How often do you train your employees on your company’s emergency action plan? If you answered “never,” your business is like many others – led by well-intentioned people who believe they’re in compliance with current standards when the truth is anything but.
“The courts have ruled that every kind of disaster is a foreseeable incident,” Berman says. “Failure to prepare and plan are signs of gross negligence, and there’s litigation over almost every disaster that happens because people don’t have the plans they’re supposed to have, are not prepared but are required to be, and are mandated to test those plans to make sure they work but don’t.”
How can you avoid this? Start by taking a look at what your current emergency plans say. Chances are they haven’t been updated recently. Compare them to the current versions of OSHA regulations and NFPA 1600 – is anything missing? At a bare minimum, OSHA 1910.38 mandates the following items in your emergency action plan:
- How to report a fire or other emergency
- Emergency evacuation procedures, including the type of evacuation and exit routes
- Critical plant operations (such as shutting down certain building systems) and who should perform them before evacuating with everyone else
- How to account for all employees after evacuation
- Procedures for employees performing rescue or
- The names and job titles of employees who can explain the plan and assigned duties
- The employees with special duties in the action plan form your emergency team, an important part of the puzzle. These people will direct evacuations or gather people in designated assembly areas, help shut down utilities, and perform other vital tasks.
The nature of the emergency team demands a well-organized group that can work well together, explains Bo Mitchell, president and founder of 911 Consulting. NFPA 1600 recommends that emergency action plans designate at least one team member for every five employees.
“When I look at emergency plans, the weakest part is most often that the emergency team is too small, it’s not well-constructed, and there’s no clear chain of command,” Mitchell says. “Facilities people are either ignored or treated as a peripheral. Organizations want somebody from business continuity, HR, or operations to be the top person, yet it’s the facilities people who will get the job done because they’re familiar with all of the equipment.”
Your plan should also identify how to help employees with special needs get to safety. They include not only people with disabilities, but anyone who could conceivably need extra attention, including contractors and visitors who aren’t familiar with your building. If they’re on your premises, they’re your responsibility.
“For emergency response purposes, a pregnant woman under federal law is considered a special needs person during emergencies,” Mitchell explains. “We don’t like them going up and down stairs because that kind of stress can be dangerous. If you’re in a wheelchair, don’t speak English, are on crutches temporarily after surgery, are diabetic – those are special-needs persons. Many state fire codes require that you have a list of them to share with the police or fire captain when he or she arrives.”
Remember that your emergency protocol is never truly complete. It’s easy to let it gather dust after a major update, but you don’t want to realize mid-catastrophe that the team’s contact information is full of phone numbers that don’t work for employees who moved on years ago.
3) First Responders Will Take Care
During a major disaster, first responders may not be able to reach you right away, notes 911 Consulting’s Mitchell. In fact, in an incident that overwhelms local resources, you may not be able to get emergency help for days or even weeks. In the meantime, you’re on your own. If some of your employees can’t get out, are you able to shelter them?
For SecureWatch 24, a New York City-based security and surveillance company, the “you’re on your own” principle took a different turn. The company’s bunker-like remote fusion center in Moonachie, NJ, was completed just weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit. Luckily, the facility remained dry, and because its redundancy for all systems ensured uninterrupted data and power, it became a temporary town hall and recovery center for local government and law enforcement.
Could your facility serve as a base of operations? By the same token, do you have a designated emergency operations center in case your facility is out of commission?
For these reasons and more, FMs must play a prominent role in disaster preparation, survival, and recovery. Even if first responders can reach you quickly, no one knows your building as well as you do. If help is delayed, it’s up to you to shut off the right systems and coordinate the interim response. When emergency responders arrive, be ready to brief them on the nature of the problem, its location, and other information they’ll need to contain the threat.
“Make sure the facilities don’t inhibit the ability of emergency personnel to get where they need to go,” notes Thomas “Tom” L. Mitchell, Air Force Lt. Col. (retired), lead facilities and asset management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, and past chairman of IFMA’s board of directors. “Response personnel should know the facility layout before they get there. They should know where the hazard areas are and have unfettered access. If you’re uncomfortable with them having a key, put a lockbox at your property’s entry point.”